This week's White Collar brings back some absent characters, introduces some new ones, and mixes them together to create a lackluster outing.
Elizabeth's birthday is coming up, and Peter wants the weekend off "unless someone dies or Neal does something big. Maybe not even if someone dies." He's leaving Diana in charge, even as Diana reveals that she's engaged to her girlfriend Christie. Sounds like everything is going grand, right? Well, until we start talking about a stolen Stradivarius violin...and Neal's now ex-girlfriend Sara Ellis, who thinks her boss Bryan (Bailey Chase) is the prime suspect. Yeah, this is all kinds of awkward.
Agent Kramer (Beau Bridges) rolls into town just as the investigation gets underway, a nice physical reminder of what Neal's got to keep in mind. Not long after that, Neal finds out that Sara dated Bryan both before and after they were together; in fact, they were engaged at one point. This is where the show starts laying the "Sara and Neal still have chemistry" schtick on pretty thickly, such as a moment where they just have to hide pressed up against each other. Even if I liked her character, I'd still be groaning at how heavy-handed the point is.
In more stable relationships, we learn Peter's in-laws put him on edge. They're from Illinois; Elizabeth's mom (Debra Monk) likes to knit Cosby sweaters and her dad (a very much alive Jimmy Ford...I mean Tom Skerritt) is a shrink who enjoys long, blank stares. Their birthday gift is a creepy childhood doll that she hated and they thought she loved. It's Mozzie to the rescue, especially after Peter finds out that he's got to come up with a last-minute gift of his own. With the help of Mozzie and his in-laws, Peter gives Elizabeth a great birthday and wins the approval of her father...plus he eliminates the creepy doll with some help from Satchmo.
Neal uncovers a security tape hidden in a globe in Bryan's apartment (that's a neat hiding place!) while Sara convinces her ex that she wants to go to the symphony with him. Neal and Diana invite themselves along, with a little assist from June (the much-missed Diahann Carroll). It doesn't take them long to identify the second-chair violinist as the woman they pegged in the security tape, but it also doesn't take Bryan long to identify Neal and start posturing.
Things take a turn for the worse when Neal and Diana find the symphony's instrument expert dead. Diana interviews the violinist and she confides that she damaged the violin while playing it, so she gave it to the expert to fix. They're up one violin but down one human life, and quickly deduce the violin is missing a string. Sara approaches Bryan and pretends she wants in on his scheme, but he doesn't buy it. Diana and Neal rescue Sara and arrest Bryan - and she tells Neal to "call me sometime."
I went into "Pulling Strings" wary because I knew it was featuring a character that I still don't care for; I've never felt Hilarie Burton's chemistry with Matt Bomer, and I found her acting this week to be particularly obvious. Bailey Chase's Bryan was over the top, too, but he was supposed to be someone I disliked, so that I can forgive. Yet putting aside my feelings for Sara, the script was painfully on the nose when it came to Sara and Neal's romantic interest in one another, between the pithy comments and convenient setups. It's as if the episode existed solely to bring Sara back into play and recouple her with Neal.
The episode isn't a complete loss, however. I've always enjoyed Marsha Thomason and Sharif Atkins, so I'm thrilled to see more of them, including Diana being in charge (though what will it take to get Atkins listed as more than a "special guest star" already?). I also loved meeting Elizabeth's parents, even if seeing Tom Skerritt playing a lead's father on something other than Leverage took a little getting used to. The interactions between Peter and his in-laws made me want to meet Peter's parents. And wow, how great was it to see Diahann Carroll again?
While this wasn't White Collar's finest hour, at least it gave some space and time to several members of the show's charismatic ensemble. Let's see what they do in two weeks, when hopefully the episode will be stronger, and Tim DeKay steps into the director's chair.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.